The St. Louis Blues opened up the season about as well as you could ever hope for through four games. Things have done a 180 turn in the next two contests.
The St. Louis Blues had a fantastic start to the 2017-18 season. Going 4-0 was just about as good or better than anyone expected. It created a few small expectations too.
Now, the Blues are not living up to those expectations. In their last two games they have looked much more like the team many predicted before the season and in a few spots worse.
The problem for the Blues is two-fold. They have many injuries to key players, which has been covered quite a bit. They are also in the midst of a decent sized road trip.
St. Louis has played six games now. They have only been on home ice once.
None of that is an excuse for poor play. It is simply a contributing factor. The team has to find it within themselves to turn things around.
Perhaps some healthy returns will aid them, but guys that played well in the opener and after need to step it back up. The cracks in the team’s game are now affecting the end results.
Normally, the pros are just about equal to the cons in these articles. It might not be that way in this one.
More too many men penalties.
The Blues allowed the first goal of the game on a Tampa Bay power play. What led to the power play? Another penalty where too many Blues were on the ice.
St. Louis has to find a way to stop that nonsense. They have at least three, if not more, called against them in six games. I’m not sure you should have three in an entire season if you’re on top of things.
One or two have been crap calls. The puck was nowhere near the bench and the player was going right off. Regardless, the Blues have to find a way to make their line changes crisper and cleaner.
These are garbage penalties that should not happen. What makes it even more frustrating is that two completely different coaching staffs have not been able to reign this in.
Jake Allen is faltering just a bit.
You will likely never catch me on the bandwagon of Allen being terrible. I am not a hater and never will be unless he just falls apart. I think Allen can be a top-tier NHL goaltender and has shown us enough flashes to prove it.
That said, he just did not have the magic on this night. Similarly to the game against the Panthers, Allen did not have a bad game overall.
He stopped many of the shots he should have and made a couple really good saves. Visually, the two goals allowed to Tampa Bay were not going to please your average fan.
In truth, there was little he could do about either. The first one, he had no clue the shot was taken until it came through his defender’s legs. The second one, whether we like it or not, backhand shots are some of the most difficult to read in the game.
We have just become accustomed, in this short part of the season, to him making those saves. If Allen was at the top of his game, he knows a shot will come on the first goal and gets down that split second sooner. If he has the mojo going, he finds a way to stop that second one as well.
So, it is marginal, paper-thin differences that can add up to a huge change in the outcome. That’s what we have seen the last two games from Allen.
Sammy Blais had it working.
Nothing paid off for Blais in terms of stats. He was only credited with two shots on goal.
The kid looks at home in the NHL though. His time with the Blues has been extremely brief. You wouldn’t even call it a cup of coffee – moreso a whiff of the beans.
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However, he looks more at home in the lineup than certain guys the Blues have been trotting out there for years. He was strong on the puck, quick in his movements and decisive in his play making.
Sure, mistakes were made (two statistical giveaways). I’ll take a decisive play not working out over the usual indecisiveness that leads to a turnover anyway and often a bad one at that.
Blais’ time in the NHL will likely be short. Rumors are that Alex Steen will be ready for the Chicago game. He looks like an NHL player though and the team should strongly consider keeping him up.
The entire passing/possession game.
Mayb it was not awful at the beginning of the game. It is harder to remember those moments because you are still getting a feel for the game and soaking it all in.
Once the Blues fell behind, one thing is for sure. The passing and puck possession was very bad.
I made a tweet about it last night. The Blues looked like they were playing on some of the worst ice you’ve ever seen the way pucks kept evading their skating or passes would go awry. Tampa was playing on a fresh sheet, with crisp passes and speed throughout.
Clearly the ice was not actually the issue. Who knows what the issue was, honestly.
Hopefully it was just one of those things. If it does not happen against Chicago, you can chalk it up to a road trip with not enough rest between. If it does, then the Blues are in extreme trouble.
Things came easily in the first four games and perhaps the players thought that would continue. You have to fight for every inch and every pass and that’s not happening the last two games.
Pro and Con:
The Blues won the shot battle.
St. Louis has done a better job of putting pucks on net in their Florida trip. They were beaten by a hot goaltender in Miami and just could not get the shots in the right spot in Tampa.
Still, they had more shots than their opponent in the last two games. The downfall of that is they lost both.
Maybe they play better when not worrying about shot totals or if they have enough. Surely it is a statistical coincidence, but it is a bit disheartening to finally get that part in order and then lose twice.
Pro and Con:
Scottie Upshall was one of, if not the Blues best player.
If that statement is not enough of a con on the entire team, I’m not sure what is. That is not said to take anything away from the team, but a fourth line player cannot be your best.
In his defense, he looked like a guy that any team would want. At 34, he was flying around the ice like he could win a speed skating contest.
He was one of the few Blues skaters that could enter the zone at will and get things set up. Therein lies the problem.
No offense to the team’s fourth line, but even if Upshall can do all that, you can’t count on his linemates to be in the best spots to help. He should not be the only one leading the charge either.
The Blues must be able to take what he was doing and have other players do the same, if not better.
You could almost pencil this guy in as a positive every night. Even when he doesn’t have it, he is usually doing something good. He is slowly morphing into a leader though.
We heard stories about him taking charge in practice and calling guys out for not shooting. He seems to be taking personal pride in the team’s offensive output.
He put the Blues on his shoulders at the end of the game, which is just what you want from your star. He could only muster the one goal, but at least he gave the team hope. It was nothing but emptiness prior to that.
Tarasenko did not have a fantastic game. He was largely held in check for most of the contest. Again, if your star can put their stamp on the game in the crucial times, that’s about as much as you can ask.
Magnus Paajarvi on the top line.
People that know me well know I really don’t like bagging on individual players. That makes writing these articles difficult at times since hot takes are all the rage.
That said, there is no way on this Earth you will convince me that Paajarvi should have been on the top line. He just does not fit.
You can make the argument of a rising tide raises all ships. It applied to the second line where the chemistry is so strong that the second winger has not made much of a difference.
That is not the case for the top line. Defenses know that Paul Stastny is unlikely to shoot, so they’ll give him chances all day. You have to have a strong winger to take pressure off Tarasenko. Paajarvi is not that guy.
At his best, he’s a grinding player with a ton of speed. He will give you 100% every time. His 100% is just not that great on a night to night basis.
He tried his best, but I’d feel more comfortable with Blais on the top line even though his chemistry is with the second.
Everything that has gone right has turned sour.
That statement is not a complete indictment of the team. It’s more a discussion of how the puck bounces, so to speak.
The Blues were not perfect and kept winning in that four game streak. Now those things they were not perfect at are finally catching up to them.
The penalty kill is still good, but it allowed a goal. The offense is creating chances, but not converting. Goaltending is still ok, but not bailing the team out every chance.
For now, I think it is simply everything coming together at once against the Blues. The team looks like a squad looking for quality and answers and the injured players might have been able to provide that.
Additionally, they look like a team that has not been able to sleep in the comforts of their own homes for some time.
Hopefully a few days off to come home and get some practice time will help. It certainly can’t hurt.
It’s only two games and they were not the worst we’ve seen by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a big downer after the big high of coming out of the gate so strong.